The Quran and Being True to Ourselves: The Cow 1-10

Welcome to week 1 with the Quran, where we’ll take a peek at the first ten verses of the first sura, The Cow.

What really jumped out at me was the amount of beliefs and life requirements that appeared, including a belief in revelation, prophets, the afterlife, faith, God, and Judgment Day. And then there were the actions: verse three articulates two of the Five Pillars of Islam, prayer (devotional obligations) and charity. I actually like these items inclusion, particularly the charity one.

Verses 8-10 were the ones I found most intriguing. Though the discussion is about those who feign faith and loyalty to God and the requisite beliefs of Islam, I think that the point about deceivers is most applicable today. We are told that those who try to deceive others about their beliefs – that is, convince people that they’re something they are not – are really only deceiving themselves. Of course, Islam isn’t suggesting that these people be true to themselves and embrace the fact that they don’t follow God – the text would prefer that they follow God and Islam – but it does raise a good point about deception.

Trying to be something we’re not is fruitless and attempting to convince others of this fact rarely hurts them as much as it hurts us. Be yourself and embrace that in which you believe.

What did you get out of these first ten verses? What was your initial reaction to the Quran? Did anything remind you of the Bible?

Administrative: Oh my goodness is the Quran dense! I thought we would be reading 100 verses a week, but so I don’t go crazy with what to say, we’re going to do 10 a week (and I’ll include them at the end of the post for your convenience). Feel free to read ahead if you’re into it. Also, please comment on whatever you want regarding the week’s verses – don’t feel obligated to stick to what I’ve chosen to say.

Also, my friend and fellow scholar, Hilla, will be joining us each week to kick off the discussion of these verses so make sure to take a look at the first comment as she’s sure to have something great to add.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read more Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 1-10

1. Alif Lam Mim 2. This is The Book free of doubt and involution, a guidance for those who preserve themselves from evil and follow the straight path. 3. Who believe in the Unknown and fulfil their devotional obligations, and spend in charity of what We have given them. 4. Who believe in what has been revealed to you and what was revealed to those before you, and are certain of the Hereafter. 5. They have found the guidance of their Lord and will be successful. 6. As for those who deny, it is all the same if you warn them or not, they will not believe. 7. God has sealed their hearts and ears, and veiled their eyes. For them is great deprivation. 8. And there are some who, though they say: “We believe in God and the Last Day,” (in reality) do not believe. 9. They (try to) deceive God and those who believe, yet deceive none but themselves although they do not know. 10. Sick are their hearts and God adds to their malady. For them is suffering for they lie.

Advertisements

14 Responses

  1. These ten verses bring up a lot of issues in determinism. According to Islam, everything in this life and world is dictated by and under the control of Allah (or God). Under this notion, everything in this wolrd is pre-destined or determined, leaving us with no liberty to really choose what is the “straight path” because Islam and the revelation of God is what is right. However, it is interesting that verse 7 mentions that “God has sealed their hearts and ears, and veiled their eyes.” If the way of Allah is supreme and reigns over all other paths in this world, then why would Allah put in this world unbelievers?

    Later, in verse 9 it mentions that “they [the unbelievers] (try to) deceive God and those who believe, yet deceive none but themselves although they do not know.” This is because only God knows. If God determines all, only God knows who has been naughty or nice. I have to admit that this leaves me a bit perplexed. There is a slight impression that the God we speak of here is pretty merciless. However, if you read the bismillah, which starts off every surah of the Qur’an, except the ninth, it states, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate.” Am I seeing things or is there a contradiction here?

  2. I would recommend that you not even limit yourself to ten verses of the Qur’an. As you noted, the Qur’an is “dense” but, more importantly, the surahs are filled with numerous topics that don’t lend themselves necessarily to a 10 by 10 analysis. For example, in Al Baqara, the first five verses form one section (“this is a book of revelations for the believers”), whereas verses 6-20 form the next section (“the unbelievers and the hypocrites have a spiritual disease of the heart and soul, becoming senseless to revelation and faith”).

    Good luck with your project, and remember the three contexts: historical, linguistic and theological.

  3. […] Zen of South Park The Quran and Being True to Ourselves: The Cow 1-10 August 6, 2008Welcome to week 1 with the Quran, where we’ll take a peek at the first ten […]

  4. I will try to respond to most of what you’ve brought up here, although I’m going to bounce around a bit to answer your questions. I will also admit up front that the issue of determinism vs. free will in Islam is rather sticky, and I may not be able to answer to your satisfaction.

    According to Islam, everything in this life and world is dictated by and under the control of Allah (or God).

    First, I don’t know how much you’ve read of the Qur’an, but I will say that unless you’ve read through the entire Qur’an at least once (and preferably several times), it’s best not to try to draw conclusions, especially on only a few verses. The Qur’an will bounce around and provide snippets of information here and there that need to be synthesized, along with material from the ahadith, in order to have a more thorough understanding of the topic being studied. This is especially the case for the topic of determinism and free will. 🙂 The Qur’an essentially teaches that mankind has limited free will. We do have the ability to make choices although, perhaps from the perspective of Allah (swt), He knows what the final outcome will be in advance. In this case, you might say that from His perspective this is determinism, but from ours it is free will. We believe we are making our own choices. In your life, do you not think that the choices you are making are your own? Do you have the ability to choose to believe in Allah (swt) or not? We (Muslims) would in fact argue that you do have a choice. See below.

    However, it is interesting that verse 7 mentions that “God has sealed their hearts and ears, and veiled their eyes.”

    Because they had already made their choice not to believe in God. Even so, they are still given chances to reform their beliefs: “See they not that they are tried every year once or twice? Yet they turn not in repentance, and they take no heed.” (9:126)

    Under this notion, everything in this wolrd is pre-destined or determined, leaving us with no liberty to really choose what is the “straight path” because Islam and the revelation of God is what is right.

    Well, Islam and the revelation of God is what is right. 🙂 “He will admit to His Mercy Whom He will…” (76:31) If you choose to submit to the will of Allah (swt), you may, insha’allah, be able to obtain His Grace and Mercy; if you reject God, you’ll suffer the penalty, insha’allah.

    If the way of Allah is supreme and reigns over all other paths in this world, then why would Allah put in this world unbelievers?

    The Qur’an points out in many, many passages that we are all here to be tested; e.g., see the above verse 9:126. Even if you took the extreme position that “unbelievers have no chance whatsoever to go to heaven in the afterlife; it’s all been predetermined that they won’t,” perhaps they are being used to test the believers. Allahu alim. (God knows best.)

    There is a slight impression that the God we speak of here is pretty merciless. However, if you read the bismillah, which starts off every surah of the Qur’an, except the ninth, it states, “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most compassionate.” Am I seeing things or is there a contradiction here?

    To those who disbelieve, who mock Him, His messengers and His believers, who sin in such a gross fashion without sincere repentance, yes, He might seem merciless, insha’allah. To the believers, He is the Most Merciful, insha’allah. In which case, we would say, “Why would you not want to be on His good side?”

  5. JDsg, once again I can’t but thank you for your comments on this issue. In religion, determinism v. free will is always an incredibly difficult and complex argument.

    Lutheranism, with its strong emphasis on grace and predestination, really throws the entire notion into sharp relief. What could ever be the point, people steeped in Luther’s ideas must ask, to do anything good in this life? Why not be licentious and self-serving, doing everything that we want and caring for little else so long as all is predetermined? A studied Lutheran would respond that he who has such an attitude and acts thusly certainly has not been provided with God’s grace and is destined for Hell, just as the good person who does all he should (all he should according to Luther, that is) would quite obviously be bound for Heaven, having received grace.

    But couldn’t the good person still wonder that no matter how good he is, so long as it’s still all about grace he may not have it and be predestined for Hell. That’s a huge lifelong and frustrating gamble. At least, it would really piss me off.

    That said, I’m quite taken with your discussion of determinism v. free will in Islam. In the first place, it makes a lot more sense. One can always repent and turn back to God. A God of grace (in Lutheranism) is neither a God based on justice nor mercy but on seemingly absolute chance, which as one would call it, is determinism.

    Islam and the Quran, at least based on the comments you’ve left, seem to imply a great deal of justice, and obviously Allah is the ultimate judge and the ultimate bringer of justice. Most people really embrace justice as a religious necessity because it implies that the world “works as it should.” The story of Job in the Bible, for instance, depicts a God that does not operate based on a principle of justice and this can be incredibly frustrating, telling us that we just have to accept God who is seemingly erratic and can do whatever He wants without regard for the order of the universe, etc. etc. Sure, He could, but the God that most of us want just wouldn’t. The Muslim conception of Allah seems to be such a God.

  6. Jay:

    Sorry about the problem with the e-mail address; I’ve corrected for this comment.

    But couldn’t the good person still wonder that no matter how good he is, so long as it’s still all about grace he may not have it and be predestined for Hell.

    One of the differences between Islam and Christianity is that no one knows whether he or she will go to heaven or hell after their death. There’s no guarantee either way, nor can one rest on their laurels, so to speak, thinking that they’re “saved.” And to say that another person is going to hell may, in fact, allow that person to go to heaven and the person making the judgment to take their place, according to one hadith qudsi. In fact, there are several surahs (94 and 110) that tell Muhammad (pbuh) to continue to strive in his prayers and other duties toward Allah (swt), even as the end of his life approached him.

    Islam and the Quran, at least based on the comments you’ve left, seem to imply a great deal of justice, and obviously Allah is the ultimate judge and the ultimate bringer of justice.

    Yes, all this is true.

    The story of Job in the Bible, for instance, depicts a God that does not operate based on a principle of justice and this can be incredibly frustrating, telling us that we just have to accept God who is seemingly erratic and can do whatever He wants without regard for the order of the universe, etc. etc. Sure, He could, but the God that most of us want just wouldn’t. The Muslim conception of Allah seems to be such a God.

    Check out verses 21:83-84 and 38:41-44, both sets of which deal with the Prophet Job (pbuh), called Ayyub in the Qur’an. In the Qur’anic version, Job complains that “the Evil One” (Shaitan) was the one afflicting him; however, he asks for Allah’s (swt) mercy, which He grants by removing the affliction, then rewards Job (pbuh) for his “patience and constancy” by restoring his people to him and doubling their number. To me that is the justice of Allah (swt). We maintain our prayers and duties regardless of whether times are good or bad, because both times can be times of trial, and, insha’allah, our prayers may be granted both in this life and in the hereafter.

  7. Yes, it seems that the Quranic portrayal of the story of Job is quite different than the one in the Bible. In the biblical story, we are meant to be reminded that life is unfair (since Job has no idea that the Accuser, or Satan, is the one besetting him with misery) and that this is no reason to stop worshiping God. He’s God and doesn’t have to be just. Basically, the message (which I think is terrible) is, “get over it – life ain’t fair.”

    In the Quran, these verses with Job seem to show us that there are forces in the world that are beyond our control (personified as Shaitan), but that the answer to unfortunate circumstances is to throw ourselves on the mercy of God.

    If my assessment is correct, I dare say that the Quranic idea is far more comforting and appealing to the human disposition than the idea in the Book of Job. Interestingly, in the Bible, a notion totally opposite of that in the book of Job can easily be found. That is to say that God operates with strict justice in all circumstances and there’s no avoiding it (the attitude of the author of Chronicles). This is in notable contrast to the author(s) of the book of Kings (which recounts the same general historical trajectory as Chronicles though written earlier) in which God is merciful rather than just, not punishing those who deserve it (according to the criteria outlined).

    Setting aside the way that mercy and justice are theoretically oppositional characteristics in certain cases, the reason that we find conceptions about God that are totally opposite in the Bible (Job = unjust and Chronicles = just) is because the various books of the Bible were written by different authors in different times and places. The canonization of various books into what we know as the Bible meant that disparate ideas and opinions were housed under one roof which lent the illusion of consistency. Hence, anyone can pretty much prove any side of any argument using the Bible because it comes from so many places. This has its benefits and problems as we can imagine.

    On the contrary, the Quran, setting aside what may have happened between the steps of Allah’s recitation to Mohammed, Mohammed’s followers writing down and memorizing what he said and Uthman’s collection and redaction, scholars and religious Muslims alike can agree that the Quran comes from one place and that lends it a great deal of internal consistency, a consistency that results in certain elements from the Bible (e.g. the story of Job) becoming more conceptually manageable in their understanding of God.

  8. If my assessment is correct, I dare say that the Quranic idea is far more comforting and appealing to the human disposition than the idea in the Book of Job.

    Insha’allah, if you continue your reading of the Qur’an, you’ll find that there are a number of differences in the various stories about the different prophets (pbut) between the Qur’an and the Bible. The thing to remember is that the Qur’an focuses on spiritual lessons and so details may be enhanced or missing altogether, and perspectives may change, even from one surah of the Qur’an to another. For example, the Qur’an tells the story of Moses (pbuh) and Pharaoh numerous times, but the lessons to be taught will vary from surah to surah, which means that each individual telling will most likely be different from the next.

    A lot of Christians criticize the Qur’an because they see the differences in how the various stories are told between the two books, but they fail to grasp the significance of why the differences are there in the first place. The basic message of the Qur’an is fairly simple to grasp; the whole of the book, however, is deep; you used the word “dense,” and that’s a good word to describe the Qur’an. I also find the Qur’an to be subtle; I’ve been reading and studying the Qur’an for about a dozen years now, and I still get new insights into the text after all this time. You might find this old blog post of mine to be of interest in this regard.

    As for the rest of your comment, I think you’ve got it. 🙂

  9. […] because I’m sure he’ll ruin it for me and everyone else. I was so happy when […]The Quran and Being True to Ourselves: The Cow 1-10 August 6, 2008Welcome to week 1 with the Quran, where we’ll take a peek at the first ten […]

  10. […] Quran post and the excellent following discussion about determinism and free will, please click HERE. If you want to read Fun with the Bible about Philippians 4:8, click […]

  11. […] read about the cow, 1-10, click HERE and about the Cow 8-20, click HERE. To read about whether or not Moses wrote the Bible, click […]

  12. […] in that, check out the conversation between myself and JDsg from the first Quran Day post (HERE). What I want to bring up is the constant attribution of our will to God, which is what seems to be […]

  13. […] is our first day of Quran readings. Click HERE to check out the first Quran […]

  14. Hi, everyone! About the free will, I heard some muslims saying that we don’t have free will, but we have choice. Only God has will. We have choice to decide if we will believe in his revelations and live accordingly to it or not. But we must remember that God only punishes if he has sent a messenger for the people.

    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: